CRIPPLING ANXIETY IS MY CARDIO

I suffer with anxiety.
Well, I always suffered with anxiety.
udo4I think it is fair to say that anxiety has been my loyal, faithful partner for as long as I can remember. The only partner I wished would have cheated on me and leave me for good! But nope, not a chance in hell…!
Anxiety has affected the vast majority of aspects of my life, and even now that I’m therapy and I am more equipped to fight it, I still feel the stomach turning, the bowels moving, the breathing getting heavier and that frigging feeling of an anvil suddenly pressing my chest and making me gasp for air.

People think anxiety is just in your brain. Yeah right, maybe when it is mild.
When it’s crippling, and severe, and ruling your own life, you’ll soon see the nasty, physical effects of it: feeling sick like you are about to vomit; having to keep track of every toilet, everywhere you go because you know your bowels won’t wait for you to talk yourself out of your sudden attack; feeling like your blood pression is suddenly going down and that you’ll soon faint; your face getting covered in spots as soon as your stress level hits the fan…. No, nothing pretty indeed. I wish there was a mental illness who made you look red carpet ready….

Anxiety has been my worst enemy at times, especially when it stopped me fromudo5 experiencing things, participating into various activities etc.. How many times have I avoided the gym because I was too anxious to faint? How many Sundays have I spent dreading going back to work on Monday? How many times I have avoided meeting friends because I was too anxious to feel sick after eating?
To be fair though, it also saved me from a lot of stupid stuff: I have never ever dared to entertain the idea of trying drugs because of my anxiety, but at the same time, whenever a doctor puts a medicine in front of me, I struggle to convince myself to take it (as we speak, I’ve been six years taking only paracetamol such is the anxiety about everything else).

udo6I don’t want to write a sad, commiserating post about anxiety though. No no no, I’m not in the mood, and one of my best features is the fact that I’m an amazing clown and I can laught about anything regarding myself… and don’t they say that laughter is the best medicine? Well, I would like you to join me in some of my most hilarious anxiety episodes. Come on, anxiety can make you do rather crazy stuff at times, it is only fair that we use them for a more positive aim!

Episode 1 – the dreaded dentist

I was… I think…. 20 years old. I know I was older than 18 because I was driving my own car. Anyway, I used to have a phobia of the dentist. When I was a kid, dentists in Italy (or, at least, then ones I saw) were more like butchers than teeth’s angels. I know for a fact that more than one person has been traumatised like me and had to endure a life of crippling anxiety whenever they had to have their teeth fixed.
I have avoided the dentist like the plague since my teens. I have been so scared and traumatised that I preferred to keep my wonky teeth rather than having anyone sticking their hands in my mouth. Unfortunately for me, a single, annoying as fuck wisdom tooth decided to pop in my mouth, and I had to resign myself to the fact that I had to have it removed.
A friend of my mum told her that she had a great experience at a hospital nearby where I lived. With a feeling of doom and gloom, I decided to face the situation and book an appointment.
Worst thing that can happen to someone with anxiety? Waiting rooms. You are there, on your own, in these kind of ok rooms, and you feel like an animal trapped in a cage waiting for your turn at the slaughterhouse. The more you wait, the more anxiety builds in you. If you have the nurse popping in and out calling a name that is not yours, it feels like you just barely dodged a bullet. So, there I was, trying to not vomit, faint or die of heart attack. My legs were restless. I felt like I was sitting on a hot surface. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t think straight, I could barely, just barely keep a straight face and not cry.
The nurse called my name, and I kid you not, my legs became the consistency of jelly. I walked towards the dentist room like “dead man walking”. The dentist was quite nice, I must admit, but I couldn’t listen to anything he was saying: I was in panic mode. I sat on the dentist chair and I felt trapped. I started to sweat like all the water in my body suddenly wanted to get out.

I had to do something.

I had to get out of that room.

As soon as the dentist grabbed his mirror to check my mouth, I begged to go to the toilet.
The dentist tried to talk me out of it, but I begged him – my bowels were having none of it, you know, anxiety. The nurse, a bit annoyed, showed me where the closest toilets where located.
With the chilliest, calmest attitude, I thanked them, left the room…. And I felt my legs moving way faster than what I wanted them to move.
And not heading towards the toilet either.
I was running, running like my life depended on it, running like Ussain Bolt trying to smash his Guinness World Record. I’m telling you, I ran like the wind and some more. To this day, I never managed to replicate that awesome performance – I would have been recruited at the following Olympic Games for sure!
I sat on my car, turned my phone off and I drove away as quickly as I could, in case they chased me.
At the time I was crying hysterically, now that I think of it I just can’t stop laughing: gosh, imagine the dentist and the nurse… I am still embarrassed to this day… a bit… (but I’m laughing hard).

udo3
My room at the hospital – after surgery, I found a massive bowl of ice cream. They can remove all my teeth!

I’m happy to say that this year I decided to do something about this phobia: I swear, I googled “dentist for very anxious patients” and I discovered that, at least in the UK, there are dentists specifically trained to deal with patients suffering from severe anxiety. Not only I managed to fix my cavities (yey!), but…. Yeah, I got my wisdom tooth removed! Ok, I had to be highly sedated, but still, I didn’t run away and the day of my surgery I showed up and went ahead with the operation.

 

Oh, and for the record: I even warned my (new) dentist saying “I have a tendency to run away from hospitals”. His answer: “I won’t stop you, but just so you know, taking that tooth out will be a 2 minutes job, and then you’ll be back in your room where a massive bowl of ice cream will be waiting for you”. Fair play to you dentist, you smarty pants!

I felt so proud of myself!! Next step? Straightening my teeth!

Episode 2: meet your hero

In one of my previous blog posts I talked about my absolute, crazy love for heavy metal. Every single time I thought I was helpless and alone, music has been right next to me, giving me last final push to do amazing things I never thought I’d be able to achieve.

This happened two and a half years ago. The worst and most horrendous part of my post-natal depression was finally behind my back. Mind you, I was not doing great, but I wasn’t suicidal either. I was doing ok and I was relieved to be able to live a rather normal life. My ex-husband and I, at that point, were married just on paper: he didn’t stick with me (and he even made things worse for me) when things got rough with my mental health, and now that things were improving and I was re-discovering who I was and how I functioned, it was me who didn’t want to stick with him anymore. To me, overcoming my mental ordeal alone and using only my willpower was the Ultimate Proof of my Strength and Fierce Independence. He proved to be a narcissist attention seeker, and I was not in the mood to feed any of his martyrdom needs.

udo
My VIP hoodie!

Anyway, I was scrolling my Facebook newsfeed one day and BANG! Great news: one of my favourite singers ever, Mr Udo Dirkschneider, was announcing the ultimate tour of my secret dreams: with his band U.D.O. he would have played all the best and most famous Accept songs. Oh my gosh I grew up listening to Accept, and Udo has always been one of my German heavy metal heroes. Was I going to miss this event? No fucking way in hell.
Without even thinking too much I bought my ticket and my VIP upgrade so that I could meet my hero. I was geared up, I was excited, I was already singing and savouring the moment. I remember it clearly because it was around my birthday in January, and the gig would have been in April. I told my ex-husband what I did, and he said “oh, so you are going alone?”, expecting me to say “do you want to come with me?”.
I just answered “yes I am”.

 

And then I realised.

I was going to go alone.

Like, alone.

Anxiety hit me like a tsunami. A barrage of negative thoughts filled my head: what if I have a panic attack? What if I have more than one panic attack? What if I freak out and I’m in the middle of the room, full of crazy, headbanging metalheads? What if I faint? What if my anxiety gets so much that I can’t even come back home? What if, at night, I get stuck on a train back home and I am in such an anxiety state that I forget English and I can’t ask for help? The list goes on and on and on. I tried to calm down: I still had few months to go before the actual gig, and anyway, its’ not like I’d be held at gunpoint forcing me to go if I decided to not go last minute, right?

Time went by and April arrived. I had that gig in my calendar and it felt more and more like a death sentence the closer it got. Then, the day arrived. I spent a day at the office totally restless. I think I’ve annoyed the shit out of everyone that day. I begged everyone to give me an excuse not to go (do you want me to finish this work? To do anything at all? How about we have a meeting at 6pm….) but… there were none.
Ok, what do I do now?
I decided to take the evening one step at the time.
First, I decided to get there and see how I felt. The tube journey was ok, I mean, nothing different from what I do every single day, twice a day.
Next step, queuing up at the venue’s entrance. Having a VIP ticket meant I had to get there earlier than everyone else, so the place was basically empty. That helped a lot, since it took away the “oh my gosh, all these people and I’m in the middle” anxiety bit. Having said that, someone with anxiety doesn’t really cope well with waiting, and I surely wasn’t happy. I started walking around, increasingly more nervous as time went by. I could feel my stomach twisting and turning. I was about to say “fuck it, I’m going home” when I heard the guy managing the VIP list gathering people for the Meet and Greet.

Deep breath, ok. At least I can meet Udo.

I got into the venue and my heart was racing. I could feel it beating in my head.

We had to go two floors down, and the more steps down the stairs I took, the more my legs became wobbly: I thought I would have ended up fainting, falling down, breaking my head and dying there and then. Without meeting Udo! For fuck sake!

I managed to get there intact. And after few minutes…. Udo came from backstage. I udo1started crying like a baby.
He has been super sweet and kept hugging me till I managed to compose myself. I was over the moon! I kept shaking like electricy was running up and down my body. When we took a picture together, I couldn’t stand still. Udo laughed and said (with a very german accent) “no, stop shaking, we need to take beautiful picture now. And if the first is not beautiful enough, we take another one ok? No panic”. Sweet! He made my day (of course I hugged him again, and again).
When the Meet and Greet ended though, it was time to face the gig alone.

I went back upstairs, and I decided to stay on the side of the stage, avoiding the crowd. The supporting bands did their shows, and everything was ok. Then, U.D.O. time came… as soon as the first song started, I started singing and jumping. By the third, I was in the middle of the crowd. Mid-set, and I was front row singing my heart out. My brain just shut down and filled itself with music. It was the best feeling ever. I cried, I sang, I headbanged, I laughed, I was in heaven.
svenI even waited outside to meet the whole band, and I can’t thank Sven Dirkschneider enough for being a truly amazing guy. It was dark, it was cold (as fuck), I was the only female human being out there, but he spent few minutes with me and made sure I was ok and happy. Sven, if you ever read this, I have never forgotten how kind you have been with me, and I owe you!

 

HEAVY METAL OR NO METAL AT ALL

When people say “music saved my life”, I don’t have to make any effort to believe it.
I am one of them too.

kreator1My life saviour was Heavy Metal, discovered through MTv (dinousaur mode on: back in my days, MTv was a true music channel!). In Italy, we could only watch the US version of it, and just for a handful of hours a day, as it was hosted on another italian tv channel. MTv Italia came later on, when MTv headquarters realised that Italian youngsters were eager to have a brand new, modern channel dedicated to them.
Being a teenager, I soon decided that sleeping a decent amount of hours at night was overrated, and that staying up late at night (and waking up with massive dark circles around my eyes) was super cool;  Star Trek The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were on at 1am, so there I was, cup of tea in my hand, mesmerised in front of my best friend forever the TV, and who cares if the price to pay was being a zombie at school the next day.

One night, skipping channels out of boredom, I ended up watching a programme on MTv called SuperRock.

And DAMN!

That music! Those guitars! Those sweaty, long haired people shouting anger and fury at a microphone, surrounded by even sweatier and angrier people down the stage. I had an epiphany there and then. Like for all my passions, I went from nothing to “I’m so into it like nobody can ever be able to”. Out with the colours, in with all black clothes.

Yes, Madonna was my hero (because she was so doing whatever she wanted to do, whether it was appropriate or not, and to me she was an inspiration of the woman I wanted to be), I quite liked rock music and I am still a proud Queen fan, but other than that, pop music never spoke to me at a deeper level. Boy bands? oh dear me no… I found them embarassaing (now, 20 years later, I am one with Gary Barlow and Gary Barlow is with me. Oh, and Backstreet’s back alright!).
Spice Girls? PPPlllease. Bunch of chavs (I didn’t know what a chav was, of course, but in Italy we called them “zarri” o “tamarri” which is kind of the same thing).
That creepy dance music? What is love (baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more – sorry I HAD TO!)?
Heavy metal didn’t need me to be anything but myself. All that frustration, all that fury, all the drama of being so not the norm, suddenly it had a voice, and a fucking loud as hell one. I finally found something I could relate to.

Hiding in my bedroom now went from “I hate everyone, I don’t want them to see what an ugly, stupid disaster I am” to “I’m meditating about life whilst listening to Slayer”. Hours and hours with headphones on, crying over those lyrics, raising my horns up in the sky, releasing through those guitar riffs all the pain I had inside. Those people really knew what I was going through, they were just like me, only older and more famous. I found my dimension.

My parents were not convinced at first, but being my parents and being used to my craziness, they decided it was best to allow me to enjoy my latest passion rather than denying it. They hoped that, like other previous stuff I got into, I would grow out of it at some point (hopefully sooner rather than later) and maybe, just maybe, that I would pick something less doom and gloom next (unfortunately for them, it never happened).

I saved like a crazy Uncle Scrooge every single penny to afford any metal album out there. I was like a drug addict, I needed more, more, more, more! On the subject, I would like to officially blame Luca Signorelli (HAHAHA I love you!) who, thanks to his album reviews on the italian version of Metal Hammer, made me fall in love with some amazing bands I still adore to this day (Kreator, Megadeth and Testament, to name a few!). My poor dad had to be dragged every single Saturday to the music store to buy CDs (“dad, Luca says that Endorama is a bomb, I have to have it”; “dad, you don’t get it, I know, but Machine Head “The More Things Change” is like… omg dad… read Luca’s review, come on, I MUST OWN IT RIGHT NOW daddy please daddy he is raving about it I will die if I don’t listen to it”). My dad rolled his eyes, resigned himself at spending another Saturday amongst the weirdos at the music store and stared at me and my peers, surrounded by those CDs with these quite creepy covers, pretending to be totally fine even though he looked like a fish out of water, because yeah, she is my daughter, she is cool, poor you other dads who don’t get it.

My mum, eager to do shopping with her daughter even-if-not-for-the-lovely-pretty-dressed-she-hoped-for, came with me to all those metal-dark-all black shops full of band merchandise (SoundCave and Mariposa, I salute you!) and helped me pick the best t-shirts (“no that dragon is too brown, get this one instead, the red writing matches your new jeans better, oh and you definitely need this one with all these skulls and blood. Oh, get this long-sleeve, for colder days. Oh, accessories! Get this necklace with this 15cm sword pendant”). Of course, she also got me a leather jacket because you ain’t a metalhead without having one. FACT!
Best of all, I was allowed to wear those t-shirts at school. My mum said so. Who am I to go against my mum?
Yes, ladies and gentleman, we didn’t have school uniforms in Italy (and we still don’t)!
Once a teacher dared to make me feel bad about my beloved Blind Guardian t-shirt, 19featuring a scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’ Silmarillion; she said I should have worn it upside down because she couldn’t stand that horrible drawing of some creepy satanic scene. I went histerical and I basically told her she was ignorant as fuck (ok I didn’t say it in these terms, of course, I was a good girl, I didn’t want to be suspended) because those satanic drawings were, in fact, a scene from the Silmarillion written by Tolkien, and that maybe she should have studied some proper literature before saying shit about my shirt.
Read some books bitch!
Of course the teacher was not impressed at my attitue and of course she called my mum. If you read my previous posts, you know that my mum is… my mum. Yeah, she stormed in my teacher office telling her to mind her fucking business, that her job was to teach me Latin, not to be fashion police, besides what the hell she thinks she knew about fashion anyway, it is known that black is flattering, skulls are cool, and I picked the t-shirt for my daughter, it is not offensive in any shape or form, it is art, this is Tolkien ok? Never heard of the Lord of The Rings? Hey I will make my daughter wear it every single day till the end of the school if I have to OK? How about you get the book and you read it in class so that you can teach the kids some culture?.

Aaaaand I ended up parading metal shirt all school year long.
Cheers mum, you da best!

I remember the very first time I went to a metal gig: Blind Guardian were playing in a little, punk / rock place called Rainbow in some dodgy area somewhere in Milan. A friend and I, both 14 years old (I think) went there totally unprepared for what we were about to experience: we thought we were super cool and super alternative, probably amongst the older chaps in the place. Turns out, we were just… exactly who we were. Two kids. Amongst very hairy, older, taller, bigger people than us. We kind of lied to our mums to be able to go (“noooo don’t worry it is just… some Germans…. Fans of Tolkien…. Yeah super cool thing, fantasy lovers, nothing to be concerned….”), and I can still see as it happened yesterday the look of pure horror and terror when they realised where their precious 14 something years old offspring were about to spend their evening. We smiled and waved, then run inside in the hope they would not chase us and drag our sorry asses back in the car and home. We were sure we’d be grounder for couple of years after this, but fuck it, we were too cool to care. We had the time of our lives. Metal has always been (at least back then) such an inclusive community, because at the end of the day we were all in the same condition of being outcasts, and weird, and different, so if you had a band t-shirt and you lived and breathed metal, you were part of the family and be looked after. Period.

Incidentally, my love for heavy metal happened at the start of what I like to call “The tech revolution” in Italy. It was the beginning of a “fast”, reliable, affordable 24/7 internet. Before that, internet was only for those who could pay quite the eye-watering telephone bill, and if you wanted it for free you were allowed only 30 minutes a day. But there’s more: you had to unplug the landline phone, plug the internet one in, turn on that fucking noisy 56k modem and hope for the best. Ahhhh, those where the days where websites were 4 lines of texts and a picture or two, and you’d see it loading line by line. You had to have patience. Now I freak out if my 4G doesn’t load BBC Sport in 3 seconds. Our parents used to yell at us if we forgot to re-plug the landline back, and important calls went missing (yep!). Google made its debut and suddenly everyone discovered what a search engine was. Gosh I feel ancient! ANCIENT!

The world started to feel smaller. In the comfort of my room, I discovered I could connect with everyone, from Australia to Peru; most importantly, I discovered something totally ground-breaking: I was not alone.

Hyperventilating moment.

I was NOT alone.

Out there, thanks to my computer, I had the power to reach tons of people that were like me.

Weird, like me. Different, like me. Listening to heavy metal, like me. Wearing black, like me. Being outcasts, and nerds, and crazy, and fun, and intelligent, and non-judgemental…. And the list goes on and on. Words cannot express how good and relieving it felt to finally be part of something, to have a gang of friends always ready to be there for me and chat with me and have fun with me anytime I switched my computer on.

Of course, my parents wanted to make sure I was not ending up in some satanic cult, so they met all my new friends, and because all of us were based in various cities across Italy, they drove me to whatever city we decided to have our meeting in (and joined the fun too!). By the way, I was the youngest amongst my friends. Most of them were at university already, some were older and were working, some had family and kids. Still, at the end of the day, it didn’t matter. What matter was what we had inside, what we had to say, the music we loved, not what society labelled us (“old”, “freak”, “ugly”, “student”, “son”, “father”, “wife” etc…). To this day, I’m grateful for this experience: it taught me you can be friend with anyone, anywhere.

To this day, I’m still a metalhead, and I’m still crazy at heart.

slayer
yeah, I looked a bit like this that day

My wardrobe is full of black band t-shirts that I wear to go to work: I traumatised few colleagues with my t-shirts; one of them had the “baptism of fire” the day he started: he was all suited and booted (corporate, finance world attire) in reception, waiting for “Silvia” to pick him up. He was expecting, well, a corporate dressed woman…. and instead, he got me, Slayer t-shirt, ripped jeans, scruffy hair, storming in the reception, phone in my hand, yelling at whoever forgot to tell me that guests needed to be picked up.
Oh, the day I turned up at my desk with my Kreator “Satan is Real” t-shirt: hey, it was casual Friday, nobody said anything about “maybe NOT that casual”…!
If someone wanders around my office looking for me, my desk is easy to spot: there are pictures of Slayer everywhere, including on my stapler, and before we moved area, I even had a German corner with all my German favourite bands (sorry, Ich liebe Deutschland sehr).

Heavy metal made me travel countries for gigs like crazy, to the point I ended up being in a special, secret EasyJet club for frequent flyers (no lies!).
I met almost all my favourite musicians and I got some funny stories to tell about it… ah, the day I almost fainted in front of Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, the poor guy kept hugging me, telling me “it’s ok, it’s going to be fine, give me a big smile”; the day I spent hanging out with Testament thanks to the cake I baked for Chuck Billy’s birthday, or

anthrax
Amongst the Italians

Steve Souza of Exodus on stage dedicating “Blacklist” to me as he met me outside the venue before the gig, I was in tears ’cause I got dumped recently (by the same guy I got recently dumped, I should add)…. or when I froze to death to meet Sven Dirkschneider, or Wolf Hoffmann, or Kreator, and the time I met Anthrax and Frank Bello shouted “this picture will be called Amongst the Italians”….

And those friends I made on the internet? They are still (!!!) my friends. We chat on Facebook all the time, we meet if we have the chance and we have fun just like we did when we were younger. Over the years I met some incredible people thanks to this music. Hand on heart, the sweetest, craziest, funniest guys on Earth. Boy, they have to handle me, and some of them learned the hard way what it is like to have me as “your

ros
Ros and I at Slayer’s gig

BFF”. Rosario, my dearest of all, still has nightmares thinking about going to gigs with me: to give you an idea, the time we saw Kreator together, I began the gig by promising him I’d behave, but by the time the lights went off, I have been told I threw my beer up in the air shouting “OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOD” and I began ramming people down to reach the front row…. Rosario eventually found me, headbanging the hell out of that gig somewhere in the venue, totally mental. Slightly better than the time we saw Slayer, and I kept texting him a barrage of messages, then I started jumping around him, yelling in hir ears and be a total nuisance. He still loves me, somehow (till the next gig).

For the record, since when it comes to Heavy Metal I’m still the bonkers teenager at

mille
Me & the lengendary Mille Petrozza

heart, my friends still treats me as such, and to this day, they still tease me for having Slayer tattoed on my leg (of course!) and, most of all, for still fancying Mille Petrozza of Kreator. Hey, 20+ years of pure, undisputed love here guys, I travelled half of Europe to follow the guy, I even mastered to learn some German for him! Show some respect!

HAHAH HORNS UP! \m/